The dirt about “superfoods”

Superfood 525

We’re on a bit of a nomenclature binge, discussing the definition of the word “pizza” yesterday, noting the now legal definition of “gluten-free” last week,  and today taking a look at the word “superfood.”  This is a word that’s been used quite a lot recently and ostensibly means a food that is packed with nutrients, vitamins, or other beneficial attributes, without having “bad” characteristics like saturated fats or high calories. Kale, chia seeds, and blueberries are often cited as examples of superfoods. Yet, like “gluten-free” used to be, there is no offically accepted definition of the term.

We were inspired to think about this subject by a recent article on Mother Nature Network, What is a Superfood? In the article, the quoted dietician comments that ““Most of the foods usually talked about as ‘superfoods’ are great. I encourage my clients to eat them all the time. I’d never use the term ‘superfood,’ however, and most of the dietitians I know wouldn’t use it either. I prefer to talk about a healthy, diverse diet of whole foods. And that means moving away from processed foods.”

The aversion to using the term comes, as would be expected, from its adoption as a marketing term to sell processed foods and other items. In fact, Europe has legally “prohibited the marketing of products as ‘superfoods’ unless they are accompanied by a specific medical claim supported by credible scientific research.” 

However, while the marketing term should be something to look out for, food journalists have taken the idea to heart and especially love to create lists (top 10 or 12 or 17 or 11 superfoods) of foods that are considered by everyone to be quite healthy. A quick look at a Google search for “superfoods” reveals numerous lists, all of which tend to include most of the same foods or at least categories:

  • leafy greens (kale)
  • cruciferous veggies (broccoli, cabbage, etc.)
  • blueberries
  • chocolate (dark, not milk)
  • beans
  • nuts (esp. walnuts and almonds)
  • salmon
  • seeds (chia, flax)

We were somewhat amused, though, by Real Simple’s list of their 11 superfoods. None of these seem to us be particular “simple” – at least to find or add to an everyday diet:

  • açai
  • Goji berries
  • cacao
  • seaweed
  • chia seeds (do not use the ones on your “pet”)
  • mangosteens (they’re not mangos)
  • maca powder
  • kefir
  • hemp seeds
  • nutritional yeast
  • black garlic

We’ll stick with the first list.

Photo by Chef Mick on Flickr

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One Comment

  • FuzzyChef  on  August 15, 2013

    Hey, what do you have against nutritional yeast?

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